The Barna Group posted an article on its website in May of this year which discusses the ambiguity among churchgoers and church leaders of what it means to be spiritually mature. It would certainly be worth a look at the article as a whole before interacting with the below quote. However, I thought I would share the quote below, which strikes at the challenge pastors have in defining what it means to be spiritually mature.
"The research among pastors highlighted several inter-related challenges. First, while nearly nine out of 10 pastors said that a lack of spiritual maturity is the most significant or one of the largest problems facing the nation, a minority of pastors believe that spiritual immaturity is a problem in their church. A second challenge is that only a minority of churches has a written statement expressing the outcomes they are looking for in spiritually mature people. A third challenge is that pastors often favor activities over perspectives in their definitions of spiritual maturity. Their metrics for people’s spirituality include the practice of spiritual disciplines (19%), involvement in church activities (15%), witnessing to others (15%), having a relationship with Jesus (14%), having concern for others (14%), applying the Bible to life (12%), being willing to grow spiritually (12%), and having knowledge of Scripture (9%)."
First, we may want to begin by asking some critical questions related to the survey itself. Of course, we do not know exactly how it was conducted, but it is worth giving some thought to the accuracy of the data given above. It is also worth discussing what we think about some of the assumptions made by the above quote. For example, that a "written statement expressing the outcome they are looking for in spiritually mature people" is central, important and telling.
Second, what do we think about the above results if we do feel that they are fairly accurate. Is there naivety on the part of pastors in thinking their congregations are spiritually mature? Is there wishful thinking in this? Is there a fear in admitting perhaps that they have not lead or guided their "flock" well? Or, do we agree, that in fact these pastors are probably discerning the state of their congregation well?
Third, do we find the answers to what it means to be spiritually mature good, bad, etc.? Of course, we don’t know what is meant by spiritual disciplines and since it would seem that "involvement in church activities" could fit into that category (depending on how it is defined) some of these distinctions may not be totally helpful. However, it is fairly concerning that many pastors may struggle to answer this and in fact may answer in some ways that are not helpful, thoughtful, etc.? I have noticed in my time in ministry and even interacting with other pastors that answering the questions, "what does it mean to grow spiritually" and "what does it mean to be spiritually mature" can be a challenge. These questions are often met with ad-hoc responses or responses even born out of specific deficits they perceive to be present within their congregation (for example, their congregation may not focus on service as much as they would like and this results in defining spiritual maturity by service). Sometimes their answers are perhaps even born out of the guilt they feel about their own spiritual maturity.
What do you all think? How would you define spiritual maturity?